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Howard makes 39 saves as Wings force Game 6

by Dave Lozo /
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- For two periods, Jimmy Howard put the Detroit Red Wings on his back. During the third period, his teammates returned the favor.

The Red Wings scored three consecutive goals during a span of 10:09 of the third period to erase a two-goal deficit and emerge with a 4-3 victory Sunday night at HP Pavilion in Game 5 of their Western Conference Semifinal series with the San Jose Sharks.

The Sharks have a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series that will resume with Game 6 on Tuesday night at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

"I think you put yourselves in a very dangerous position if you start getting back on your heels against that team, but I don't think that was the case tonight," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. "We gave up six shots in the third period, and three of them went in."

Howard made 39 saves -- 28 during the first two periods with the Sharks dominating the game -- to help the Red Wings survive elimination for the second straight game.

Things looked bleak when Logan Couture scored for the Sharks to make it 3-1 just 54 seconds into the third period. But Howard stopped the final 11 shots he faced over the rest of the period to make sure the Red Wings would have a chance to fight another day.

"I just wanted to not give up another," Howard said. "If you give up another one, your season's done. I just wanted to stay there and hold the fort down for the guys."

"I think Howie really stole us the game," said Danny Cleary, who tied the game at 3-3 at 5:29 of the third period. "They had a lot of good chances, but he's really battling for us. He's really stepped up in these playoffs."

Howard has faced less than 37 shots in a game just once in this series and has a .921 save percentage in the series. He was under siege during the first two periods and made three of his more difficult stops during the second period -- two on defenseman Dan Boyle during a Sharks power play and another on Couture from in tight.

"We didn't play our best hockey in the first two periods," said defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who scored his second of the postseason to pull the Red Wings within 2-1 with 3:35 left in the second period. "Jimmy played a great game. In the third period, we said we have to start playing hockey otherwise we're going home for the season."

It didn't take long for the Red Wings to respond after Couture made it 3-1.

Jonathan Ericsson moved down from his point position to score his first goal of the playoffs to pull the Red Wings to within 3-2. Pavel Datsyuk -- who had three assists -- feathered a pass for Henrik Zetterberg, who barely got his stick on the puck and missed the shot. Ericsson, however, was backing up the play and was there to snap a shot past Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi to make it 3-2 less than two minutes after Couture's goal.

Cleary tied it 1:46 later after a great individual effort by Kronwall to work around a Sharks defender and get off a hard shot that Niemi stopped. Cleary hustled for the loose puck behind the net and stuffed it past Niemi as he dove for the left post after he was unable to gather himself after making the initial save on Kronwall.

It was the second game in a row in which the Red Wings seemed to realize during the third period that their season was close to being over and responded with furious attack.

"We weren't giving up at all," Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "We kept going after them, getting pucks to the net. We tried to be active on 'D' when we can. We just kept shooting pucks on the net, because we're not going to give up. We had to win today and that's what we did."

The Sharks dominated the first 40 minutes and looked to be on the verge of a second straight trip the Western Conference Semifinals. They received goals from Devin Setoguchi and Joe Pavelski during the first two periods and were in complete control of the territorial play.

Setoguchi's first-period goal, his fifth of the playoffs and fourth of this series, came off a deflection of a shot from the point by Boyle. He tipped it down and through the legs of Jimmy Howard with 2:42 remaining in the first period.

Paveslki finished a 2-on-1 rush after Ryane Clowe flipped an aerial pass that landed perfectly on Pavelski's stick. He was able to tap it over Howard to make it 2-0 with 4:28 left in the second period.

The Sharks were unable to maintain a two-goal for very long, though. Kronwall responded 53 seconds after Pavelski's goal, and Ericsson scored 2:49 after Couture got his goal early in the third period.

"We responded both times and that made a big difference," said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock. "You're pros and you're supposed to be composed and under control."

"There's a lot of character on our team," Howard said. "We demonstrated that during the season and it paid off here tonight. Our season was on the line there in the third period and we found a way."

The Red Wings played the final period without Johan Franzen, who has been battling an ankle injury for most of the playoffs. He appeared to be in serious pain while heading to the bench during the second period and never returned the ice.

"He kind of tweaked his ankle. I didn't want to play him anymore," Babcock said. "It's been hard for the Mule. He's a star at playoff time and playing on one leg has been tough for him."

Franzen will likely be a game-time decision for Game 6.

If the Red Wings want to make a return trip to northern California, they believe they can't play the same way they did during the first two periods Sunday when they take the ice at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday.

"We're going to be better for sure in Game 6," Babcock said.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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